September 2, 2003

"Losing bin Laden"

Robert Novak profiles the new book by Richard Miniter that is subtitled "How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror". It centers around a meeting after the bombing of the USS Cole in October, 2000 in which all but one of Clinton's key advisors counseled against striking bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan:

Hours after the attack, Clarke presided over a meeting of four terrorism experts in the White House Situation Room. He and the State Department's Michael Sheehan agreed this almost certainly was bin Laden's doing, but the FBI and CIA representatives wanted more investigation.

That deadlock preceded a meeting of Cabinet-level officials that same day. Clarke proposed already targeted retaliation against bin Laden's camps and Taliban buildings in Kabul and Kandahar. At least, they would destroy the terrorist infrastructure. A quick strike might also get Osama bin Laden. "Around the table," Miniter writes, "Clarke heard only objections." As related by Clarke, the meeting exemplified ministerial caution.

Atty. Gen. Reno, told by the FBI that the terrorists were still unidentified, argued that retaliation violated international law. Reno and the CIA's Tenet wanted more investigation. Secretary of State Albright is quoted as saying that with renewed Israeli-Palestinian fighting, "bombing Muslims wouldn't be helpful at this time." (Albright later told Miniter she would have taken a different position if she had "definitive" proof of bin Laden's involvement.)

I'm sure there was a degree of "ministerial caution" after 9/11 as well. But by then we had a President that didn't govern on the basis of focus groups and opinion polls. Besides, in the Fall of 2000, the Clintons were busy working on the Marc Rich pardon, and ripping off the silverware from Air Force One.

Posted by dan at September 2, 2003 12:07 AM